An error in a prosecutor's closing argument at a murder trial, and, of all things, an iPhone charger, have come together to overturn a murder conviction of a man accused of killing his youth mentor inside a vehicle. That vehicle had an iPhone charger in it, which became the focus of the appeal.
Facts of the Case
Defendant Antomar Jones was accused of killing a man, who was his youth mentor, inside of a vehicle. Jones' defense was that he killed nobody--he was inside the vehicle to purchase marijuana, and was just charging his phone. To counter his testimony and poke holes in it, the prosecution argued that the charger found in the dead man's car was an iPhone charger--not suitable for use in charging for Jones' phone, and therefore he couldn't have been charging his phone. Arguing that if a criminal defendant is lying about one thing, his credibility is at issue for other things.
The argument was made by the prosecutor during closing argument. The argument of the charger not being one for Jones' phone contradicted Jones' testimony and called his credibility into question. The jury convicted him of the murder, and Jones appealed.
Purpose of Closing Arguments
A closing argument is an argument given by parties to a jury at the conclusion of a case summarizing the evidence at trial. Closings can include a passionate argument and common sense inferences that can be drawn from the evidence in a case. What it can't contain, however, are arguments or references to facts or evidence that was never presented during the earlier stages of the trial.
The problem that caused the murder conviction to be overturned on appeal was that there was never any evidence presented during the trial that the charger was for an iPhone versus any other type of cellular phone. It was being argued by the prosecution for the first time at closing. And because it was made during closing for the first time, there was no opportunity by Jones' lawyers to refute the information or explain it away.
The Appellate court, in overturning the conviction, agreed with Jones on appeal, saying that the conflict in Jones' testimony was the centerpiece of the case, and the prosecutor improperly "won" the conflict in testimony by surprising Jones with the iPhone charger argument at closing.
A lawyer is allowed to ask a jury in closing arguments to make inferences based on their common knowledge and worldly experiences. The prosecution argued during the appeal that identifying the charger as an iPhone charger was something that an everyday person would recognize and be aware of as part of their common knowledge and daily experience. Therefore, the prosecution argued, there was no error in making the iphone charger argument for the first time at closing. That argument was rejected by the appellate court, which felt that identification of phone chargers was something that would need to be supported by evidence--not by jury inference.
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